ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is moving to begin restarting New York’s economy primarily with young workers and others who have overcome COVID-19 and have immunity.
The Cuomo administration has yet to release a plan for which workers, businesses and schools might begin a return to normalcy.
Cuomo said the state would move slowly and in a nuanced fashion to try to right the economy to not exacerbate the spike in confirmed coronavirus cases that are doubling every three days. The apex in New York is expected within 14 to 21 days.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the country “opened up” by April 12.
“Public health and the economy,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “You don’t have to choose between the two … our public health strategy was a blunt instrument, what we said at the moment of crisis was, ‘Close everything’ … In truth, it was not the most refined public strategy. It wasn’t even smart to isolate young people with older people,” he said, referring to school closings that sent children home.
Cuomo backs a plan to test young people, who are more resistant to the virus, and others to identify those who have beaten the virus and are immune.
The hitch is getting that test approved and then distributed, all on an expedited schedule, he said.
“Once we get that test, I think you will find hundreds of thousands of people who had the coronavirus and resolved,” Cuomo said. “Let them go back to work. Let the younger people go back to work … ramp up the economy with those individuals.”
Cuomo's pivot toward the economy followed what he said was pressure by business interests.
Last Friday, Cuomo issued an executive order to send all workers in nonessential roles home, and to close all but designated essential businesses.
Days before, he had closed public schools for an undetermined period and closed public colleges, insisting on a singular focus on the health front.
“One crisis at a time,” Cuomo said Friday. “Deal with what is [in] front of you and let’s save as many lives as possible … if someone says three months down the road, ‘You didn’t have to close businesses,’ I plead guilty. I believe those policies will save lives and I won’t put a price on a human life … if someone wants to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision.”
The state Labor Department said more than 532,000 New Yorkers had filed unemployment claims by last Thursday, spurring a 1,000% increase in claims in some areas.
Business groups insist the new, dual focus on health and the economy is needed, and fast.
“Things are certainly terrible,” said Kevin Law, CEO of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group.
“Over 90 percent of the businesses on Long Island have 20 employees or fewer,” Law said. “They depend on feet and fannies coming into their shops and I’m very concerned about them and their ability to survive.”
“For a lot of the larger firms, it’s still going to be terrible,” Law said, noting that large firms employ half of Long Islanders.
Law projected Long Island’s economy, with a $165 billion gross domestic product, will lose $2.5 billion because of the virus crisis.
New York City’s lost commerce is projected to be $4.8 billion to $6 billion, including a drop in restaurant trade of 80% and a drop in retail and real estate activity of 20% each, according to the Partnership for New York City business group.
Kenneth J. Pokalsky, of the state Business Council, said the mood among officials of the council’s 60 chambers of commerce statewide is “despair.”
Pokalsky said the business groups would welcome some pivot to normalcy, perhaps by allowing some workers to return to conduct internet sales.
But Pokalsky said public health can’t be threatened.
“We have to start looking there … but the bottom line is the health aspect,” he said.